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Reggie Bowman: The Man Behind The Music

Reggie Bowman is certainly a legend in the Australian Music Industry. From his involvement with The Southern Sons through to being a highly sort after producer, Reggie has just released his new EP ‘Service Manual‘ . One of our lead photographers and reviewers, Simone Tyrrell (and a huge Southern Sons Fan) got to have a chat with Reggie on where he’s been, the current state of the music industry, through to his latest release.

Simone: Hi Reggie, it’s Simone from the Rocker Rag. How are you?

Reggie: Good thanks Simone. How you doing?

Simone: Yeah not too bad thanks on this colder day!

Reggie: Good day to be in the studio that’s for sure!

Simone: I know I’m absolutely freezing I just can’t get warm! It’s horrible! (laughs) But it’s good to hear you’re keeping busy. How are you managing lockdown 2.0?

Reggie: For me it’s a great opportunity for me to catch up on things that I’ve half finished, or quarter finished and to actually get my own band back in the studio which has been great. We’ve actually been able to finish an EP, I’ve just finished up 15 records this year.

Simone: Oh my God that’s fantastic!

Reggie: Yeah, I usually average around between 15 to 20 albums a year anyway, but this year’s been berserk because everyone has been very productive at home!

Simone:That’s so cool. That’s amazing. I actually did not know that, that you produced that many albums.

Reggie: I don’t do a lot of major label stuff. I do mainly independent stuff. I like to do that because I feel like I’m making a difference. I’m making the record with the band that I’m in the studio with, not for some guy that’s sitting in an office that doesn’t like what the band wants but wants me to make the record he wants to hear. I’m good at making band records for bands, so that’s my niche. It’s kept me alive for 35 years so I’m quite happy to keep doing it.

Simone: As you’ve said, and with the interviews I’ve done with some musicians and artists, talking about moving into the digital age and people being able to produce their own records now rather than having to rely on a label or a company and it takes out that side of it, and artists are saying they have a lot more artistic freedom. Do you find that same thing, like you said, artists get to do what they want?

Reggie: For sure. I think with the new digital age, to coin a phrase, I take bands that are out there doing their own thing a lot more seriously. The real corporate sound now days is a massive gap between what that content is versus what real bands are doing. Real bands are churning out incredibly good quality stuff because the technology is there. You’ve got guys like me, and there’s a bunch of engineers out there that actually help out young bands and give them some advice on improving their sounds in the studio. Because at the end of the day if we have to mix it we want to make sure the sounds are good to start with. I find a lot of these young bands are incredibly proficient now and it’s really really good because they’re tech savvy their dead keen to do it. You don’t have that artist that is being pushed by a major label that really has no idea of the process that they’re in, and they’re just being churned out. To be honest with you I’ll take very seriously a band that produces a great demo and their presented to me for advice. Very seriously.

Simone: That’s amazing. As you’ve said you’ve certainly been keeping busy on the music front. You’ve got a brand-new EP coming out, and the first single off the EP is Flicker which was released in July. Can you tell me a bit about the songs that are on this EP and how they came about?

Reggie: John Corniola and I have a history that goes back 30 odd years. And he played with Daryl Braithwaite up until just recently and of course I was in a band called Southern Sons and we toured extensively. I left the band after the first record and went and worked with Tommy Emmanuel and wrote a bunch of songs for other people and started a career as a producer and that kind of kept me in stead. I’ve always been churning out an album every year or so. Just because I think it is really vital for me to be able to stare at a band and say I’m going through the same process you are. I’m making my own records, so I know what you’re doing. On the other side of the line I understand what the process is. I understand the grind so the process of promoting and marketing, digitally trying to represent yourself in a way that’s not a skid mark on the internet. You just feel for them a lot more, you have a lot more empathy for the artist if you’re doing it yourself. John and I have been working on these tracks and albums that we’ve been churning out for ages. We really have our own little thing happening and we love it. We love it dearly. Whenever I hear it play I get the giggles. And he’s the same with me. He hears my lyrics and just starts laughing. They’re hilarious. So, we have this magical kind of connection that’s very rare. And to be honest with what we’ve been doing with this record is, this EP is a collection of songs that I wrote on a special guitar. It’s actually like a dobro, the actual tuning of the guitar is the same tuning that we used for Southern Sons and that Southern Sons used in “Always and Ever”. Now the tuning was invented by – I was going to say invented – but Phil Buckle was responsible for me being introduced to that tuning. And then I’ve been working with Jack Jones, or Irwin Thomas on his new record just recently and we’ve rediscovered this tuning for touring with the Southern Sons on the last One Electric Day tour. I played it and I just got inside it and I just started writing these songs. I couldn’t stop! I got the final down and said we should start recording them now and stop writing and start recording them. They literally fell out of the guitar on me. It was a really really nice process.

Simone: That’s so fantastic. What a story. That’s so great. Particularly as you said different things, like you mentioned being in Southern Sons, specific ways of playing, or what you were introduced to, then when you guys did your reunion tour. Bringing back all of that stuff it reignited and made you say I’m going to use this. That’s fantastic. I love that.

Reggie: Yeah I have to tell you it was weird thing strapping on those boots again and jumping back on and playing those songs, it was kind of weird, it was really sad not to have Phil there but at the same time he was there in spirit if you like and it was like one of those things where I had to play that tuning, and I heard that tuning again and it threw me straight back into writing and Jack’s the same at the moment. I’m working with Irwin on his record and we’re pulling songs and it’s amazing, it’s so good and we are just ultra-productive and it’s like oh dear! But the thing about it is he’s in a church in the country. He’s bought a church, and he’s in there and he’s 20 songs deep. He doesn’t need to go out, he’s got so much work to do. (laughs)

Simone: (laughs) That’s so great. I was actually going to ask you next about Southern Sons and you guys doing your reunion tour last year, which included as you said playing at One Electric Day. What was that like after all these years getting back together and playing live and playing to crowds that – I speak for myself here when I say that we were fans from back when we were teenagers (Reggie & Simone laughs) and we’re all back out at your gigs as 30, 40 50 year old’s even and just loving reliving the old days and hearing you guys play again. What was that like for you on stage?

Reggie: It warmed my heart. A lot of that time back in the day I really don’t remember that much of it because a lot of my time was spent with logistics. I was one the guy making sure we could get gig to gig. Get Jack back to the hotel before he loses his voice. Things like that. I was obsessed with the details and the logistics of trying to get everything done – like pack the gear, pack the truck, do all of that. And this trip that we just did it was a little bit more like that but at the same time I forgot there’s this other part that I used to call it noisy wallpaper, because you walk out and you literally cannot make out one individual face. There’s a sea of people and they’re making so much noise! (laughs) It’s like noisy wallpaper and it was pretty magical. The first day of rehearsals was funny as! We all walked in there and we all had trepidations as we hadn’t seen each other in ages. Virgil and I still work together a lot, but I hadn’t seen a lot of Jack and I hadn’t seen Geoff for ages. And we walked back in and literally we played the first song and we looked at each other and we said “Oh! That was easy!” (Reggie & Simone laughs) Kind of like it was a little bit too easy!!

Simone: Yep. That connection and a little bit like riding a bike. (laughs). You just don’t forget! (laughs)

Reggie: Jack, Virgil and Geoff are very accomplished players, it was more or less just like taking a dog for a walk. And we got the first Tasmania show under our belts and then from that point on it was just like we wanted to have fun with it. We just were really really enjoying it. We really enjoyed the whole trip.

Simone: That’s so fantastic. I actually got along to a couple of the shows I was at Chelsea Heights and I was also at One Electric Day, I was photographing.

Reggie: Oh mad.

Simone: Yeah. And, my gosh I just loved it. And particularly Chelsea Heights it was a very special show because I was at the front and there was no photo pit like there usually is and I was standing in amongst the crowd and a couple of the people in the crowd recognized me even and said you were at the last show or you were at One Electric Day

Reggie: (laughs)

Simone: And I said I know! Then all of us just started talking about you guys, the video clips from the day, remembering Jack’s long hair, and remember this and remember that (Reggie laughing), it was like this one big high school reunion. And then you guys came out and everyone was just so pumped and even the guys were screaming out from the back every time Jack did a really good note.

Reggie: Or solo

Simone: And they were yelling out “Fuck yeah”! And I was like Oh my God! (Simone & Reggie laughing) This is actually so cool. It was really lovely.

Reggie: The funny thing about it is, something I had forgotten all about is there’s something for the guys – especially the players in the audience. Guitar players, and drummers where they flock to the gigs because we have one of the best drummers in the world and one of the greatest guitar players in the country. So that’s amazing. So, the guys rock up, and they don’t feel ashamed to actually stand right up the front and put us right under the microscope. But then there’s something for the girls as well and the songs they’re just so brilliant man. That’s what you want to hear. That’s what girls want to hear. They want to hear those sorts of songs. It was a perfect marrying if you like of the two aspects that brought boys and girls to the pub.

Simone: Yeah it was really great. It was such a great night. I’ll go back to you stuff. With your brand new EP titled “Service Manual”, do you think once live music, particularly in Melbourne, when we’re allowed to be back up and running, do you think you’ll do any shows yourself, solo shows, hit the road, and do your music?

Reggie: Look that’s very much on the cards. It’s just a question of how it’s received, and if there is a need, I will do it. I’ve already got ideas about how I want to do the show, who I want to do the show with, all of that sort of stuff. Make it more of an intimate kind of thing as well. They’ll be some special guests involved and all that stuff. It’s one of those things that’s very much on the forefront of my thinking. I work really really closely with Nate Hill, from Nate Hill Photography with his art. So, when we have a conversation about videos or art, I defer straight to him. When it comes to doing the live show, I’ll actually be bouncing off him. How do you think this should be visually represented? Like how should we do it aesthetically?

Simone: Yeah definitely. Nate is extremely talented as well. I know Nate and I’m familiar with his work. I’ve shot with him in the pit several times.

Reggie: He has an amazing eye. He has a very different eye too. It’s not a standard eye.

Simone: Yes. He’s very very good at what he does.

Reggie: Oh yes. I can see a thousand photos from a pit, and I’ll know which ones are Nate’s. It’s not what everyone captures. You know what I mean. He’s got this weird way of looking at things that I just find it intoxicating.

Simone: Yes, he’s really good. I was very privileged to get from Nate your upcoming EP to have a listen to before interviewing you. I had a listen to the songs on the album. I actually really love the variety of sounds of each song. Your first single Flicker, really nice upbeat, pop style – well not pop style exactly. Then you go to a song like Eden which is like a ballad but not as slow as a ballad but still has a nice strong beat. The style reminded me a bit of a modern country.

Reggie: When I think of a song like Eden, I think of Goo Goo Dolls like Iris and that sort of stuff, it’s really hard for me to describe it. John plays – he’s got this hi-hat feel, groove in his hi-hats that I’ve never heard before. He’s the reason I write those songs. Because that feel has so much emotion to it. It makes you feel good you know.

Simone: Then Karmacide which is actually my favourite track on the EP. (Reggie laughs) It’s so cool edgy rock song. When I first listened to it and it first came on the intro before you start singing, because I’m a big Superjesus fan, it reminded me very much of Superjesus type rock.

Reggie: (laughs) yeah yeah yeah

Simone: I was sitting there going oh my God I could actually envisage Sarah McLeod with you on this one! (laughs)

Reggie: (cracks up laughing)

Simone: That’s my favourite on the album. To me, obviously that’s my bias in regard to my music taste as well. I loved all the songs but that was one of my favourites.

Reggie: Thanks man.

Simone: You said it’s hard to describe your style of music, but are you drawn to a certain genre, I guess?

Reggie: To be honest man, I’m no spring chicken. My favourite band of all-time would-be Matt Finish. Back in the day they were by far my favourite band. There was nothing technically brilliant, but wow, he used to just write with a sense of melody and shape and harmonic structure that really identified with me. It’s like one of those things that stuck with me forever. And it’s a real trademark thing. Phil Buckle writes – he’s got that sense of melody and harmony as well. That’s kind of what drew me into it.  When you listen to Flicker I tried to write that, the song, Flicker for me the concept came and then it was like, this gotta be like a Motorace song. Because I love Motorace. So, I tried to do something along those lines. And funnily enough I was working with a DJ called T-Rek and he does a set that’s like Dandy Warwhols meets Nick Cave, and I never really dabbled in that area before. And what happened was I started writing with that groove for Karmacide and I just came up with this dirty Dandy Warhol bass line riff that evolved into that. But the really interesting story with Karmacide is that I could not do a vocal for it. I could not. Everything I did. I recorded vocals for that song probably five times and I deleted them all. And then one day I was talking to Jack, to Irwin about it actually, I said that guy hasn’t turned up to do the vocals yet, cause you really need to have that character to do that vocal and that’s why that guy in that song, sounds different to the other guy.

Simone: Ahhh ok (laughs)

Reggie: And it was all about – I’d written that song really about – you know when you help someone that doesn’t want to help themselves and you just put so much effort in, to be the point where you’re just like Oh my God. I’m exhausted. That’s what Karmacide was all about. That kind of help where the person doesn’t want to help themselves.

Simone: Yep definitely. As I said that one is one of my favs as well as Eden. They’re my top two.

Reggie: Excellent

Simone: I’ve had a look and you’ve actually had a few other EP’s. You seem to have a running theme with titles. You had “Read the Destruction”, “Owners Manual” and now you’ve got “Service Manual”, is there a bit of a story behind how you name your EP’s?

Reggie: Yeah kind of is. It’s one of those things – I’m going to blame Nate (Hill) for this, because he’s such a great conceptualist. He conceptualizes the whole thread from start to finish. To the point where his ideas are best, so I just run with that (laughs). There’s also a back story. I build a lot of hot cars; I have old cars that I put massive motors in. I have a 52 Chev Ute that I’m putting an LS2 in it.

Simone: Nice!

Reggie: I’ve got a 1962 Pontiac that I’m working on at the moment. And I’m known for taking an old Holden and smashing some oversize V8 in it just for fun. So that’s where the workshop style vernacular comes from and that’s why Nate injected that into the theme of things. And topically all the lyrics they refer to aspects of me, and “Owners Manual” was the first album with the perfect title for that. You read those lyrics and you’re going to understand me big time. And this has been working with “Workshop” album as well. Those songs are like therapy and then “Service Manual” is the perfect scenario, it’s the pop up of where I’m at, at the moment with my head.

Simone: That’s so awesome. I love hearing the story behind songs, and the albums and the names. Particularly then when you hear the songs, or if I listen to them again now, they’ll hold a different meaning.

Reggie: Yeah you get a bit if a back story on it.

Simone: Yeah I think it is very rich when you get the opportunity to talk to artists such as yourself and really delve into your work, because obviously a lot of creativity goes into them and as you said it doesn’t just pop out with – oh it didn’t relate to anything, there’s always a really cool story to go with it.

Reggie: That’s why Nate is so needed in this area. That’s the one thing I find too. I listen to records and I look at artists and I do all that. It’s not like in the old days where you pull out the album cover and you get to read where it was done and what was done, you actually  have to pull out your phone and go digging. It’s not something you can readily get while listening to the song. You got to be in the application, you can’t read the artwork while you listen to the song. It’s got to be easier. And I think platforms like yourself, digital rags, and places that are streaming interviews as well, are just as important now, now more than ever, so that someone like me can actually paint a picture for you. This is what I was doing when I wrote that song. People are still interested. They want to know.

Simone: Absolutely. I agree. It’s fantastic. I think for those music lovers, as you said, who get the opportunity to read interviews with artists on platforms, it’s really good to be able to find that information about new albums, new songs, new artists, old artists. It’s fantastic.

Reggie: In some cases it’s almost like joining the dots too.

Simone: Definitely. Well I’ll wrap up because I’ve taken up a bit of your time.

Reggie: That’s all good

Simone: I really appreciate you talking to me today. So, thank you so much.

Reggie: No problem. Anytime.

Simone: It’s been a pleasure to chat to you. I’m a fan from way back – Southern Sons, so it’s all very surreal for me that I get to do these things and the artists that I love are still around all these decades later. I love it! (laughs)

Reggie: (laughs) That’s great. Awesome.

Simone: Thank you so much and I really do sincerely hope we see you out on the road once we’re allowed to have live music again and I’ll definitely be coming along and showing my support.

Reggie: No worries. That would be great. Fantastic. I’m looking forward to it.

Simone: No worries. Thanks, so much Reggie and enjoy the rest of your day.

Reggie: You too. Cheers. Thanks again. Bye.

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You can listen to Reggie’s new EP and his collection of tunes here https://reggie.bandcamp.com/

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